Saturday, October 14, 2017

Apparently I Twitter Now

Penny from She Picks Up Pennies kindly shared my recent post about privilege on Twitter.  Which led her to ask me for my Twitter name (handle?), to which I replied " that like the Facebook?".

I am clearly old.

But now I'm on Twitter!  So if you want to witness me demonstrate my complete ineptness at new technology, please follow me!  I'm Frugalish Physician @FrugalishMD.

I promise I will display less ineptitude than the POTUS.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My Problem with the Success Narrative

The FIRE community is filled with personal stories that follow a "success narrative".  Although each one is unique, they all follow a similar pattern:

1)  I started off with no money.
2)  As a result of my own hard work/sacrifice/discipline, I have amassed great wealth and achieved financial success.
3)  Because I was able to do this, anybody can also do it.

I completely understand the appeal and value of this narrative.  For someone who has been financially successful, it's really nice to feel proud of your accomplishments and like you fully deserve all of the success you've enjoyed.  For someone who is still on the path to financial success, these stories can be inspiring, helping you overcome the self doubt and frustration that can be barriers to achieving your goals.  

So why do I take issue with these stories?

Because they almost universally ignore the role of privilege.  Very few people who share their stories acknowledge that they have had advantages in life that have helped them be successful.  While the specific privileges vary from person to person, they may include being male, being white, being heterosexual, being cis-gender, being a fluent English speaker, being free of mental/physical disability, growing up in a stable home free of any form of abuse, living in a safe community, having access to a quality education, etc.  There are many possible privileges, all of which contribute to the likelihood that someone will be successful in his or her life.

As you're reading this, you may be thinking about the story of someone who overcame a lack of privilege to be successful, and of course there are these stories.  Human beings are strong and resilient, and some of us are able to overcome tremendous odds to achieve great things.  But these are only individual stories, which ignore the fact that the greater the odds are against a person, the less likely they are to succeed.  A white, able-bodied, cis-gender, healthy male is going to have an easier time in life, on average, than a black transgender woman or a white man with serious mental health issues living in the inner city.

So why do I think this is important?

First, because although the success narrative can be very empowering to people who are successful, it can also be very mentally damaging to people who face barriers to success.  Imagine you were a single mother of four kids living in a bad school district and working two minimum wage jobs to support your family, and the message that you heard was that your lack of financial success was because you "aren't trying hard enough" or you "just need to be more disciplined".  Being told that you're a personal failure isn't helpful when what you're really dealing with is a lack of social support, a dysfunctional educational system, and inadequate wages.

Second, because the success narrative lets people of privilege (such as myself) off the hook.  If success is only the result of personal attributes, then we don't have to care about (or do anything about) racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, income inequality, or any of the other systematic processes that serve to keep people of privilege in power and keep other people oppressed.  We can sit with our wealth, believing that we're fully entitled to it, and not care at all about the people who are suffering within our very unequal system.

We need to do better.  While it's great to celebrate individual successes and be proud of our own accomplishments, we need to also acknowledge the things that have helped us to get to where we are.  And thankfully, there are some bloggers who are doing this.  Please read the Frugalwoods and She Picks up Pennies and Our Next Life and Cait Flanders for some really good explorations of privilege.  And when you're writing your own success narrative, which I look forward to reading, please recognize the role that privilege played in it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Growing my Community

As a typical introvert, I have always had a fairly small group of friends.  I hate small talk and big gatherings and casual relationships, so I've always prioritized close relationships with a few people over superficial ones with many.  And for the most part, this has always worked for me.  I still have a friend whom I met in kindergarten* and another whom I met in grade five, and I am closer with them than I am with any of my biological family.

When M and I started dating, I was shocked to see how large her friendship group was.  She is as extroverted as I am introverted, and so she has accumulated an enormous collection of friends and acquaintances over the years.  People from church, people from university, people from her childhood camp, people from work.  We rarely went out in public without running into at least one person whom she would consider a friend.

I have never wanted my friendship circle to be as broad as hers (I don't think I could even remember the names of all the people she knows), but I was always envious of how easy it was for her to find someone to spend time with when she wanted to.  Many of my friends are physicians or new moms, so getting together usually involves weeks to months of planning.  There aren't a lot of people in my life whom I can call up at the last minute when I'm feeling bored or am in need of a sympathetic ear.

This wasn't a huge problem when M and I were dating, as I could always call on her, but I became aware of it again when we separated.  The weekend after the breakup, almost every person in my life was busy.  It was almost comedic to see how many people were unavailable that weekend - my mom was visiting her family halfway across the country, my aforementioned long-term friends were both away, my brother was on call, two of my friends had brand new babies, and another good friend had quarantined herself in her house with her three plaque-ridden children.  Thankfully a close friend whom I had met through online dating** years ago was free, although I suspect she could have done without being my primary emotional support at the beginning of my breakup.

So...this post sounds a bit whiny, which is really not my intention.  This post isn't so much about gaining sympathy (or worse, pity) as it is about being self-aware.  While my introverted tendency is to be insular and not deal with the stress of meeting new people, my newly single self is craving more connections and a larger community.  Which means taking risks and living with some of the initial discomfort that comes from dealing with strangers.

So far, my focus has been mostly on strengthening my existing relationships, which I unfortunately neglected a bit while I was deeply ensconced in my relationship with M.  But the next step is to broaden my circle.  I have recently joined a French conversation group, as I am trying to become fluent(ish) in French, and it's an opportunity to meet some like-minded people.  I'm also applying to be on the Board of Directors for a small local theatre company, which would combine meeting new people with my slightly obsessive love of theatre.  And I'm trying to reconnect with some of my cousins, with whom I've lost touch since my Dad died eight years ago.

All of this feels a little (a lot?) stressful to me, as I am very comfortable in my own comfort zone.  But even introverts need friends, so I'm going to use the opportunity of my newly single life to bring more people into it.  Fear and discomfort be damned.

Any other ideas for growing my community?  How do you meet new people as an adult?

*35 years ago.  How insane is that?

**One of the advantages of same-sex relationships.  If there's no romantic chemistry, sometimes you can be friends!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Things that are Hard After a Breakup

Being one person in a bed meant for two*.
Discovering she took the popcorn after you plug in the popcorn maker.
Paying fees to change the plane tickets for a trip you were planning together.
Losing custody of your Wednesday night trivia team.
Running into her friends and not knowing whether they know.
Running into her friends and knowing that they know.
Leaving the carrots out of your soup because she took the peeler.
Becoming solely responsible for the emotional needs of your cats.
Changing the beneficiary on your investments.
To your mother.

*Also awesome.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Post Mortem

I keep opening this post, typing a few sentences, deleting them, and closing the post again without publishing anything.  I alternate between wanting to write a few lines to get it over with and wanting to pour everything in my heart out, consequences be damned.  I suspect in the end I'll do something in between, although it's hard to know, because whereas I usually have some idea of what a post will look like before I write it, this time I'm improvising.

I've heard it said that life keeps giving you the same lesson, over and over again, until you learn it.  For me, the lesson that I seem to be unable to learn is to let a relationship go the first time it ends.  In every long-term relationship I've ever been in, after the relationship has fallen apart, I've always gone back to see if the pieces could be reassembled.  Instead of just dealing with the loss and moving on from it, I've let myself be stuck in the process of the relationship ending, asking over and over again, "Can I make this work?"

The answer, of course, is no.  With rare exception, a relationship that has truly ended - in a furniture-moved-out, shared-possessions-divided-up kind of way - can't be made to work.  And that is the long and the short of what happened with M and I.  Our relationship ended over a year ago when I called it quits, but thanks to optimism and poor judgement and the ability of good memories to block out the bad ones, I invested a whole other year into making absolutely certain that it was over.

It hasn't all been bad.  In the past year, we've eaten chicken wings at trivia night and picked strawberries at the U-pick and camped under multiple starry skies.  We traveled to Europe in the Spring, eating currywurst in Berlin and waffles in Brussels.  There has been a lot of struggle and a lot of unhappiness, but there has also been life, in all of its beautiful imperfection.  And while I wish we hadn't been so unhappy, I don't wish away our last year together.

ZebraNRP at Mothers in Medicine wrote a beautiful post recently about the end of her marriage, and I have gone back to it multiple times over the past few months, while I've been witnessing the last days of my own relationship.  I love her idea that something isn't a failure just because it ends.  I also love the poem that someone included in one of the comments, and it seems like a fitting way to end this post.

          Failing and Flying
          Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012

          Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
          It’s the same when love comes to an end,
          or the marriage fails and people say
          they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
          said it would never work. That she was
          old enough to know better. But anything
          worth doing is worth doing badly.
          Like being there by that summer ocean
          on the other side of the island while
          love was fading out of her, the stars
          burning so extravagantly those nights that
          anyone could tell you they would never last.
          Every morning she was asleep in my bed
          like a visitation, the gentleness in her
          like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
          Each afternoon I watched her coming back
          through the hot stony field after swimming,
          the sea light behind her and the huge sky
          on the other side of that. Listened to her
          while we ate lunch. How can they say
          the marriage failed? Like the people who
          came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
          and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
          I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
          but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Radio Silence

After a brief period of activity, I've been quiet here for the past few weeks.  It isn't because I've had nothing to write about.  I've actually had too much to write about, but I simply couldn't, and so I've been silent.

M and I have separated.


I will likely write more about this in the future, as I enjoy oversharing personal information on the internet, but that's all I'm going to write for now.

Enjoy some David Gray!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Financial Personalities

I am very lucky to have a few super long-term friends, the longest-term of whom is my friend L.  L and I met in kindergarten, and we have lived fairly parallel lives ever since (same elementary/junior high/high school, same university, same medical school, same residency site, and now working at the same hospital).  Although our lives have been pretty similar, we are nonetheless very different people.  Where L is outgoing, I'm a classic introvert.  Where I am uptight and neurotic, she is laid-back and has a laissez-faire attitude.  She chose to be an Emergency physician because she loves the fast pace and variety, while I chose to be an Internal Medicine sub-specialist so that I could spend lots of time thinking and pouring over medical minutiae.  We're closer-than-sister friends, but very different in many respects.

As an introvert, I cling tightly to established relationships, so I make it a priority to maintain my friendship with L.  Because we're both busy people, the easiest way for us to do this is to get together for dinner, which we try to do once a month.  (This is one of the reasons my eating out budget is ridiculously high.)  Earlier this week, we met at a local restaurant for cocktails, charcuterie, and a chance to catch up on everything that's happening in our lives.  And one of the subjects that came up was money.

Having known her for 35 years, L is one of the few people with whom I can honestly talk about money.  So I talked frankly about how I'm horribly a little bit obsessive about saving money, about how closely I monitor my net worth, and about how much I would love to have enough to retire right now, even though I probably wouldn't.  As I talked, I could see a bemused little smile form on her face.

"Oh my god, Solitary!  You're a physician.  Stop worrying about money so much!  You have enough money.  Just spend it!"

She then proceeded to tell me about her financial strategy, which is basically to meet with her financial advisor once a year to review her debt repayment strategy and investment strategy, after which she spends whatever money is left over.  She doesn't really know her net worth, and she certainly doesn't know her daily net worth like I do.  But with how little attention she pays to her money, she is vastly less stressed about finances than I am.

Now...I have no idea whether her financial strategy is a good one or not.  She might be saving only a small percentage of her earnings, thus ensuring that she will need to work til 65 or beyond, in which case her approach isn't great.  But she spends pretty reasonably for a high income earner, and she does recognize the importance of saving, so I suspect she's doing okay.  And as I just said, she is vastly less stressed about finances than I am.

Which makes me wonder:  Is a person's stress level about money inherent and inflexible, or can it be changed?  If I start paying less attention to my finances, could they be less of a source of anxiety for me, or is this just part of my innately anxious personality?  I had thought that building up a solid net worth would get rid of my financial worries altogether, but it has really only lessened them slightly.  I'm now convinced that achieving Financial Independence is the key, but I'm not certain that even that will be enough.  Maybe I'm just hard-wired to worry?

Are you anxious (reasonably or unreasonably so) about your finances?  If so, how do you deal with it?